BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Even if numbers occasionally lie, most of them indicate the New England Patriots are in great position to hoist a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
The reasons begin in the only place they could: with Tom Brady.
Yes, at 40 years old Brady would be the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl if the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. He would dethrone Peyton Manning, who won at age 39 with the Denver Broncos to cap the 2015 season.
Brady has put up numbers in his 18th season unmatched by any player in NFL history. He led the league with 4,577 yards passing during the regular season and his five touchdown passes are tied for the most in the playoffs.
Brady’s seven Super Bowl appearances are as many as the entire Eagles roster. He’s faced a myriad of difficult scenarios in the championship game, including last year’s 25-point hole the Patriots dug out of to beat the Falcons.
Brady won that one without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who will be in uniform after being cleared late this week.
Close games have been no problem , for Brady and coach Bill Belichick either. The total difference in scoring in those seven games is 12 points: Patriots 169, opponents 157.
You want to talk about comebacks? No player in the Super Bowl era has more fourth-quarter comebacks in the playoffs in his career than Brady’s eight. It’s probably why Brady chuckled this week when he was again asked about how long he wanted to keep playing.
“Why does everyone want me to retire so bad?” Brady said. “I don’t get it. I’m having fun. The team’s doing good. I know I’m a little bit older than most of the guys, but I’m really enjoying it. … I’m not thinking about retirement. I’m thinking about the Super Bowl and trying to win the most important game of the year.”
As big as the Brady factor is, he’s not the only advantage New England has.
The Patriots lost go-to receiver Julian Edelman in the preseason to a knee injury and linebacker Dont’a Hightower to a season-ending shoulder injury in October. After some early-season struggles, Belichick found a way to plug the holes, with contributions from several previously unheralded players like Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Ricky Jean Francois .
New England has also gotten a strong season from receiver Brandin Cook after acquiring him from New Orleans this off-season. He posted his third straight 1,000-yard receiving season (1,082) and was second on the team in receiving yards behind only Gronkowski (1,084). Running back Dion Lewis has also found new life just two seasons removed from a knee injury. He led the team with 896 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns.
It’s underlined the football savvy of Belichick, who with a sixth Super Bowl win would pass Vince Lombardi and tie George Halas and Curly Lambeau for most NFL championships by a coach.
Belichick will be taking part in his 11th Super Bowl as a head coach or assistant, the most among any coach in NFL history. That amounts to 21.2 per cent of all Super Bowls in league history and 34.4 per cent of all Super Bowls since his first appearance as the Giants defensive co-ordinator in 1986.
Though there have been reports of alleged friction this season between Belichick, Brady and team owner Robert Kraft, it’s clear they are on the same page when it comes to the pursuit of championships.
“It changes every year. The venues are different, the teams are different, the matchups are different, and the road the team has travelled to get here is different, as is the road your opponent has travelled,” Belichick said. “Each one is unique. Each one’s special.”